After our discussion on the life and times of Chopin, I thought we’d learn the Waltz in A minor by Chopin, published posthumously (after death).
This composition is originally at an RCM grade 6 level, but I created a simplified arrangement of it for those at around a grade 1 to 2 level. As always, the PDF can be found linked below.
Sheet music for Waltz in A Minor by Chopin
Simplified arrangement for grade 1-2 level piano
The notes of this piece are simple enough (even the full version – it’s one of Chopin’s easiest pieces), but the challenge lies in capturing the spirit and subtlety of feeling.
Backstory of Waltz in A Minor by Chopin
Backstory time! This waltz was written near the end of Chopin’s life, between 1843 and 1848, and wasn’t published until after his death.
Chopin wrote about 20 waltzes – only 8 were published while he was still alive. It’s speculated that the Waltz in A Minor was composed toward the end of his life (1849), since the tone is so gloomy.
Piano Society has an excellent breakdown of Chopin’s waltzes, if you’re curious for more information.
This waltz was one of the last of Chopin’s waltzes to be published – it didn’t appear until 1955! The Rothschild family, a family that had been a patron and friend to Chopin in his lifetime, donated it to the Paris Conservatory.
Mood of Waltz in A Minor
Chopin’s waltzes were not his most intimate works, or his heavily emotional works. For the most part, his waltzes were written to please the public, to play at salons and to give enjoyment to his intellectual friends.
However, this waltz – one of the last discovered and written – I consider to be more emotional than most of the others published during his lifetime. It’s simple, but haunting.
Have a listen to the piece in the PianoTV video above, and definitely check out closer to the end of this blog post where we compare three different performer’s interpretations.
The mood of this piece alternates between sadness and hope, and is really quite beautiful. My arrangement simplifies the last line (which is rather complex in its original form), but I think the integrity of the composition remains.
All right, let’s cover the basics. For starters, this is a waltz, which if you remember from the video on waltzes, have these characteristics:
- is in ¾ time
- has that mm-BAP-BAP rhythm in the bass clef, alternating a low bass note with upper notes that outline the chord.
- is generally very smooth and graceful
The tempo is the Italian Allegretto. You might remember that Allegro means fast – allegretto is slightly slower, but still goes along at a fair clip.
Harmony and chords
This Waltz in A Minor by Chopin makes a good study in chords. Once you understand what the chords are in each bar, it becomes much easier to commit to memory. Let’s take a look at some of them.
The first chord is an A C E – A minor. Makes sense, seeing as this piece is in A minor – composers almost always start with the chord or harmony of the key signature.
Next we have A D F – re-arrange those letters into root position and you get DFA, which is D minor.
Next, GBF – you know that GBD is a G major chord. Here, the D is omitted and the F, the 7th, is added, making it a G7 chord.
Then we land on GCE, which, when we rearrange the letters, you can see it’s a C major chord.
Trills and decorations
Next up is a discussion of these quick turns, or trills. In this piece, it simply means to do a little flick up, then back down. In the first line, that means moving quickly from an E up to an F, and back to an E. The same idea applies to the others. In the third line you move from B to C to B, and so on.
Chopin and Rubato
There are a couple other things to discuss here today. The first is a term called Rubato, which means to play with a flexible tempo. This generally means to slow down a little at the end of a phrase or section, and speed up a little as the music gains momentum or grows toward a forte sound.
Rubato came into its own in the Romantic era, and was commonly used as a tool of expression and drama. Chopin himself appears to have used Rubato sparingly, despite how dramatic interpretations of his music tend to be.
“It will surprise many to learn that with him the metronome did not come off [Chopin’s] piano.”
-Carl Mikuli, a pupil of Chopin’s
Chopin was a firm believer in keeping time, so that’s something to keep in mind as you interpret his music. Try adding little touches of Rubato as opposed to wild and sweeping Rubato.
In a moment we’ll listen to several different versions of the full arrangement, so you can get a better understanding of how Rubato works, and how other performers interpret it within Chopin’s music.
“His left hand kept a very distinct rhythm and perfect time, whilst the right hand performed independently, just as a finished vocalist would sing, properly supported by a sympathetic accompanist.”
The last technical detail in this piece to look at is something called an arpeggio. An arpeggio is kind of like a triad – it outlines a chord. But instead of weaving back and forth, it powers though all of the notes without looking back.
In the last line of this waltz, there’s an E major arpeggio, which requires attention to fingering for it to work.
Performances of Waltz in A Minor
When learning well-known Classical pieces, it’s a good idea to listen to a variety of interpretations and performances of the piece. No two performers will play it alike.
Paul Barton is one of my favorite piano YouTubers – his piano is beautiful and I highly enjoy his tutorials. Definitely check him out!
His version of Chopin’s Waltz in A Minor is great because he doesn’t get too carried away. The rubato is subtle and generally reserved for section ends, and he has a delicacy of playing throughout the piece.
The B section (second part) has a lot of lively energy, and the increase of tempo that Paul does here makes it very exciting.
Grigory’s interpretation is one of extreme tenderness and delicacy. The music never gets very fast, or very lighthearted – a cloud hangs over it the entire performance.
His rubato use is more dramatic than Paul’s, but I still don’t find it over the top. This performance is slower, softer and weightier.
Tomohiro’s version of the waltz is slower, softer and sadder still. His tempo is overall quite constant, with the exception of very dramatic phrase ends.
If Paul Barton’s performance sits on one end of the spectrum (rather lively), then Tomohiro’s is on the opposite side (rather somber).
I hope you enjoy learning this piece! Even in its arranged and simplified form, the Waltz in A Minor by Chopin is still a stretch piece that takes quite a bit of work.
Since Chopin’s music is all originally intermediate or advanced, I like bringing him to the table sooner than that, because he’s got some great music to be enjoyed, and I don’t want to wait that long. 🙂
As always, have fun!